Sigrid the Haughty

Sigrid the Haughty, Gunhilda, Sigrid Storråda, Świętosława, (9671014) was a mystic character who appears in many sagas and historical chronicles. It is not known whether she was a real person or a compound person (with several real women's lives and deeds were attributed to one).

In 980 (possibly 985) she married Eric VI of Sweden. She may have given birth to Olof Skötkonung who later became king of Sweden, but some doubt that.

After 994 she married Sweyn I of Denmark under the name Gunhilda. From this second marriage she probably had five children, including Canute the Great and Harold II of Denmark.

Who was she?

The information in Scandinavian sources is different from that of contemporary chroniclers, which suggest that she was a Slav.

Scandinavian sources

According to the Norse sagas, Sigrid the Haughty was the daughter of the powerful Swedish Viking Skoglar Toste. She married Eric the Victorious, King of Sweden, and together they had a son Olof Skötkonung. She later divorced Eric and was given Götaland as a fief. After Eric's death, she married Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark.

Prior to this marriage, Olaf Trygvasson, the king of Norway had proposed to her, but she was offended by him when he demanded that she convert to Christianity. This affront made her work towards Olaf's undoing by allying Sweden and Denmark against Norway. She was successful when Olaf fell fighting against Sweden and Denmark in the naval Battle of Swold in the year 1000.

Sigrid was given the cognomen Haughty when she had Harald Grenske burnt to death in order to discourage other petty kings to dare proposing to her.

The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus confirms the Norse sagas, when he writes that Eric the Victorious' widow Syritha had married Sweyn Forkbeard after having spurned Olaf Trygvasson.

Contemporary chroniclers

However, a theory holds that she was the daughter of a mythical Burislav (possibly Mieszko I of Poland and Dubrawka). The medieval chroniclers seem to support the hypothesis that her father was Mieszko I.

Several chronicles state that the mother of Canute was either a Pole or possibly a member of a closely related Slavic tribe:

  • Gesta Cnutonis regis mentions in one short passage that Canute and his brother went to the land of the Slavs, and brought back their mother, who was living there. This does not necessarily mean that his mother was Slavic, but nevertheless this chronicle strongly suggests that she was.
  • There is an inscription in "Liber vitae of the New Minster and Hyde Abbey Winchester", that king Canute's sister's name was "Santslaue" ("Santslaue soror CNVTI regis nostri"), which without doubt is a Slavic name. J. Steenstrup suggests that Canute's sister may have been named after her mother, hence coining (the now generally agreed upon) hypothesis, that her Slavic name is Świętosława, but only as a reconstruction based on a single mention of her daughter's name and the hypothesis that she named her daughter after herself. This statement also favours the theory that Sigrid was the daughter of Mieszko I.

Moreover, the fact that Canute's mother was Boleslaw's sister may explain some mysterious facts which appear in medieval chronicles, such as the involvement of Polish troops in invasions of England.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow composed a poem with the title Queen Sigrid the Haughty of which this is the first verse.

Queen Sigrid the Haughty sat proud and aloft
In her chamber, that looked over meadow and croft.
Heart's dearest,
Why dost thou sorrow so?


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